Following on the heels of European Echoes, Balls
was the second release by the German FMP label; it remains one of the great documents of Peter Brötzmann's core late-sixties/early-seventies trio with pianist Fred Van Hove and drummer Han Bennink. At the time of the recording, the trio had been playing together for some time, including forming the nucleus for a number of other recordings (including both the groundbreaking Machine Gun
offerings). Originally recorded on one August day in 1970, the record has been out of print for some time; Atavistic's reissue on its Unheard Music Series imprint sweetens the deal by including two new unreleased tracks from the era ("Untitled 1" and "Untitled 2").
Given the participants and its subtitle, "Free Action!", one might expect that the nearly hour-long program is full of bombast and torrential intensity. Sure, the sonic blasts are here, with Brötzmann's take-no-prisoners approach leading the group to meet his challenge. However, what also makes this release so enticing is the album's quieter moments, particularly when Van Hove and Bennink engage in active discourse. Van Hove is a diverse player, as his lickety-split calisthenics merge effortlessly with the influences of jazz and classical music.
The title track is perhaps the best indicator of what this record is all about. It opens with Bennink and Van Hove's scraping abstractions, which cease upon Brötzmann's entrance. Eventually Bennink, on the shell, and Brötzmann, on tenor, duel for a few moments, dancing around like two birds in flight (the shell/sax combo appears again on "Filet Americain"). Van Hove and Bennink offer some thoughts, their duets consist of mining more spacious notions, with Van Hove's dancing or skittish piano and Bennink's "everything including the kitchen sink" approach adding to the sense of engagement.
Such swirling, varied statements set the tone for the remainder, not that the program is predictable by any means, rather, these energetic surges and tension building keep one's interest at a high level. Those hearing this for the first time might find themselves amazed at the versatility as well as physical prowess of this group. Catching these iconoclasts early in their career is surely a treat and of course, for those who already embrace these musicians and their art, the music is pure joy.
For more information, visit Atavistic on the web.
Click here for more reviews of Atavistic's Unheard Music Series.